Friday, February 7, 2014

Singapore: The Alternatives To Liven Up The Economy

Singapore can do more than depending on the external economy and bigger companies to expand and generate growth in our economy.

There is a constant push to grow our SMEs but, in the name of restructuring, many basic economics theories were overlooked.

While land is fairly constrained, labor, capital and entrepreneurship are expandable. Unfortunately, the substantial import, and input, of labor has caused diminishing marginal returns. Besides, there seems to be a mismatched of skills trained in our tertiary institutions to meet industry needs. Statistics have shown that there were more PMETs unemployment and it is also getting harder for fresh graduates to land a job of their choice than previously.

There are some jobs that there are not enough Singaporeans to fill or locals simply were not keen, especially lower skilled and blue collar jobs; by all means bring in the foreigners. The operations, administrative, banking, front line jobs must be the preserves for Singaporeans. If skill transfer is a definitive factor, then there must be a pre-determined time period for the foreigners to 'pass on' the skills. I am incline to disbelief that 'a whole department-full (in the bank) of foreigners' is good for Singapore and Singaporeans. Surely, we have enough qualified Singaporeans to fill the jobs. This mis-allocation is driven by the selfishness of foreigners-helmed HRs who prefer employing persons from their own homeland. There is a hidden 'costs benefits' to such practices like the payment of agents and referral fees. These monies do not return to circulation.

According to some sources, employers generally prefer to hire staffs with some working experiences or, if fresh graduates are considered, cheapness was a decisive factor. Taxes and levies are leakages and weakens the multiplier and one possible solution to alleviate graduate unemployment, especially fresh graduates, is to redeploy levies as compensation and remuneration or make-up pay to motivate employers to employ freshies, say for a three years period. This money are well spent. If workfare is good for the lower skilled and lower paid staffs so it is equally applicable to fresh graduates.

Outsourcing and contract work has distinct disadvantages. Jobs are outsourced because of savings; by extension, the contractors will pay lower remuneration in order to profit from their efforts. The workers end up worst in this arrangement. Why does the Government need to outsource? The Government can employ, and place out suitably trained 'freshies' over time with taxpayers money. It is not wasteful but another form of education and training and making our citizens relevant to meet industry manpower needs.

Although our system is fairly business friendly, perhaps there are too many layers and departments such that duplication can be reduced. A reduction of red tapes will increased productivity.

There is also the effects of cost-push inflation.

Increased in Government departments' and Stat Boards' charges further weakens the economy as this translate into higher costs. Coupled with higher COE prices, petrol, ERP charges, levies, Town Council charges and the likes, the multiplier is 'crippled'. I am not suggesting that Government machineries 'work for free' but they should temper their tendencies to raise charges directly or indirectly. Worse still, increases were almost simultaneous.

Surely, revenues can be raised through direct taxes but with GST already in placed, the more the people spend, the more taxes are received from consumption.

The recent policies to tame demand and financial gearing of big ticket items like cars and housing, while healthy, is an economic dampener. The car loans default rate is under 5% and is deemed fairly acceptable. While there are no mass default or non-performing loans in the property market, it is understandable that some form of control is reasonable as property prices are rising beyond the reach of the average Joes and Janes.

However, one of the underlying cause of rising prices is rising land prices. Why does the Land authority need to set a base (reserved) price for open tender of land? Shouldn't we allow a free play of market forces? Our economy contracts further when foreigners are discouraged from buying local properties. If protecting locals from runaway property prices is a concern, the rules can be tweaked to allow foreigners to buy local properties but all resales must be sold to locals only. Turning away good foreign money is not the best solution neither is additional taxes as the market is convoluted and shrinking transactions will soon hit everyone.

When property prices fall, the wealthy are least affected as 80% or more property owners own public housing.

Finally, however small the local economy is, it is extremely important to nurture and allow for it to flourish. The small time businessmen at 'pasar malam', the hawkers, the cottage industry, the neighbourhood grocers and the likes have geometric multiplied effects. The provision of basic needs and meeting of demand at mass level will keep the lower income groups well and alive and make living more affordable.

To conclude, we need to loosen up controls and tame the incessant price rises. When confidence is lost and the future looks bleak and unpromising, the dreaded deflationary monster will rear its head. By then, its harder to jump start the economy.

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